In just two weeks I’ll mark the tenth anniversary of my first arrival in Los Angeles – somehow we thought it was a great idea to drive across the country in January – and it’s been interesting to look back on what has changed and what has remained the same with both the city and myself. Of all the things that have stayed the same, my interest in beer provides a nice bracket to this decade spent in, out, and through LA. The city didn’t take for me the first time around, and so when I left after just one year I managed to stretch my meager savings into a two-month road trip up and down the Pacific coast with an itinerary largely defined by visiting breweries. Ten years later, after many twists and turns, I’m back in Los Angeles and have returned to my love of beer, serving up craft brews in my spare time at The Local Peasant.
Not long before I came west in 2004 I had my first encounter with a brewery, visiting Magic Hat in Burlington, VT and getting a glimpse of how fun and diverse the beer world could be. During that first year in LA my roommate’s oh-so-patient girlfriend (now his wife) was required to carry-on two 9-packs of #9 every time she would visit so that we could always have a bit of our favorite craft beer in reserve. Despite our New England attachments we still tried loads of beers from this coast, discovering great brews from Stone, Anchor, Lost Coast, and more. But while retail stores kept us stocked with interesting beers, we found great beer bars to be a rare thing, which was a shock coming from Boston and Washington, DC (Library Alehouse in Santa Monica was the great, and grateful, exception – though as things go in LA it could be 20 minutes to 2 hours away depending on traffic).
I remember when a friend, knowing our interest, told us about a new bar that had opened in Westwood with a ton of taps. We headed over to check it out and found that all those taps had been given over to the most commercial of beers – Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, etc. It just didn’t seem like Los Angeles was a beer city, particularly in the context of places like San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver, but thankfully things have changed radically in these past ten years.
Today there are nearly thirty craft breweries within LA proper. Pioneers like Stone in San Diego and talent incubators like BJ’s Restaurant have fostered an entire generation of LA brewers who are now producing outstanding beers of every style. This brewing renaissance has encouraged an explosion of beer-centric restaurants and bars throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, and all of it has combined to create a thriving community of chefs, brewers, and beer lovers here. When you add in breweries up and down the coast from Paso Robles to San Diego, you have arguably the most exciting beer-producing region in the United States.
It all makes it much easier – and much more enjoyable – to raise a glass and toast to ten years in (and out of) Los Angeles.